The first sign that Minaret Station Alpine Lodge offers a distinct experience appears not during the winding descent into the glacial valley where it sits, dwarfed by the surrounding mountains, but 20 minutes earlier in the lakeside town where a helicopter waits to fly you through the Southern Alps. There’s no road to this quiet sanctuary: The only way in is by air.
Guests will quickly adjust to the presence of aircraft. This is a Wallis family property, and in the Central Otago region, the Wallis name is synonymous with helicopters. Sir Tim Wallis began flying here in the early 1960s, and his sons inherited both his love of aviation and appreciation for the backcountry.
“The predominance of our offerings involves a helicopter in one way or another,” says managing director Jonathan Wallis. “Our real signature products are off the beaten track.” Guests are invited to build their own itineraries, choosing from a selection of activities including skiing, hiking, mountain biking and fly-fishing.
Undoubtedly, Minaret Station caters to the fit and adventurous. David Hiatt, a guide, mentions one couple who, during their honeymoon, ran almost a marathon distance over the course of two days, their guide in tow. But Ironman stamina is certainly not required. Guests can explore the sprawling alpine meadow at their leisure, traversing two miles of boardwalk running between waterfalls at either side of the property, or join off-site adventures more focused on scenery. The selection is limited to preserve quality, and includes only trips the staff personally enjoy. Still, Wallis singles out a visit to his childhood favorite, Fiordland, as a must-do.
“That’s as far as you can get,” he says. “It’s the southwest corner of New Zealand; beyond it is Antarctica, essentially.”
What does just this side of Antarctica look like? Towering waterfalls, sheer rock giving way to still, cerulean water, golden hills and white-capped mountains as far as the eye can see.
While the focal point of the lodge lies beyond the property, each of the four two-person chalets is equally inviting. With such limited numbers, guests find themselves in a near-private resort. Each chalet features a brick fireplace, deck and spa tub, as well as a personal guide.
“Minaret offers a contrast between the wilds of the outside and the warmth and comfort of the inside,” says Wallis. At the restaurant, Mountain Kitchen, guests enjoy a warm cooked breakfast, a selection of pastries, or muesli with homemade stone-fruit preserves. Lunch is most often served in the field as a picnic, and might include barbecued lamb or freshwater lobster caught on-site. Much of the protein served comes from the property itself, and what doesn’t is sourced locally.
“We’re not about foam [or] test tubes,” says Hiatt. “It’s about presenting food in its truest form, with as little manipulation as possible by the chefs.” —Gwen McClure